Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 25 July

“Jumping Jupp Flash” isn’t jumping just yet

Chris Skidmore has become the first MP to publicly switch allegiance from Sunak to Truss. Writing in the Telegraph, he says: “I have grown increasingly concerned by his campaign’s consistently changing position, especially on the economy, to chase votes. I am convinced that we need a bolder, more positive approach to the UK’s future.” 

How long will Simon stick to Sunak? – Owl

[Jumping Jupp Flash reference here]

Devon communities budgets cut

Devon County Council has suspended the budgets given to councillors for local projects in their communities.

Is the County going “bust”? – Owl

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

Opposition leaders have slammed the decision to halt locality budgets, which the council says will allow it to “review in-year expenditure and ensure future financial sustainability.”

The Conservative-controlled authority recently predicted a potential overspend in this financial year of up to £40 million, with a warning that it has “never before faced a combination of demand growth and price shock pressures of this scale.”

Unlike the government, local councils have to balance their budgets by law every year. Devon’s leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh and Wembury) last week said: “We have a choice. We live within our means or we go bust.”

Each county councillor has an annual locality budget fund of £8,000, reduced this year from £10,000 which had been in place for many years. The cost to the council would be around £500,000 per year.

Members use the money to make grants to support activities that benefit the communities they represent.

The programme’s suspension means no new applications are being accepted, but the council will honour payments already approved.

Opposition leader Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge) said he is “incredibly disappointed” at the move.

“This is a vital connection that the council has with its local communities and the money spent by the council is worth five or ten-fold when you take into account match funding and voluntary and community effort.

“It’s very short-sighted. We weren’t consulted about it and the idea that we’re just going to support it is unacceptable.”

Cllr Brazil said other areas should be cut first, including senior management.

Leader of the Labour group, Cllr Carol Whitton (St David’s & Haven Banks) acknowledged the council’s financial problems but said they are due to years of cuts by central government. She urged the ruling Conservative administration at county hall to ask for support from Westminster.

“Removing funding from local voluntary groups doing excellent work to plug funding gaps in our communities, however, is not the way to tackle the funding shortfall,” Cllr Whitton added.

“For very small sums of money these voluntary and community-based groups make a huge difference to people’s lives. Without these grants some groups may not be able to continue. Inevitably, this will hit those most in need the hardest.”

Independent leader Cllr Frank Biederman (Fremington Rural) also criticised the move, claiming “elected councillors have been excluded from the decision-making process.”

He added: “We all need to be briefed on the up-to-date position and to understand how the savings needed are going to be found. A proper debate needs to happen.

“The locality budget saving is likely to be around £400,000 [this financial year] given some will have already been spent, so a massive impact on our communities but a small dent in the savings needed.”

Cllr Hart defended the cut. He said: “We currently face an unprecedented overspend of £40 million in the current financial year caused by the cost-of-living crisis, rising demand for our services for vulnerable children and adults and potential wage settlements.

“We are currently looking at our budget line-by-line to see where we can be more efficient and effective and where we can make savings.

“We are serious about cutting expenditure and balancing this year’s budget and working towards setting a balanced budget for 2023/24 in six months.

“The locality budget is worth around half a million pounds and cannot be exempt from scrutiny. But this is a temporary suspension and we will honour payments that have already been approved.”

Last month’s financial report to Devon’s ruling cabinet, warning of the potential £40 million black hole, said: “Immediate action [is] being taken to safeguard the financial sustainability of the authority.”

A panel of senior officers is looking at options – work labelled as top priority. It could mean services are remodelled to save money and major building projects are delayed or cancelled.

Liz Truss rejects energy bill help as ‘Gordon Brown economics’

Liz Truss has said she rejects the “Gordon Brown economics” of helping people directly with bills as her rival, Rishi Sunak, warned the British people “will not forgive us” if vulnerable households do not get extra help this winter.

Jessica Elgot 

At the latest Conservative hustings, the former chancellor said he would not be prepared to spend sums similar to the help offered earlier this year, and that support should be more targeted. He said: “I don’t think that will be necessary because what we are talking about now … is the extra increase on top of what we thought.

“It’s right that we target that on the people who most need our help.”

He also admitted that despite his 5p cut to fuel duty, people were “not feeling it at the pumps” and said further help was going to be needed for the most vulnerable.

Speaking at the hustings in Darlington, which was dominated by questions on rising energy bills, Truss said she did not believe in using further taxation to boost government help. “The first thing we should do as Conservatives is help people have more of their own money. What I don’t support is taking money off people in tax and then giving it back to them in handouts. That to me is Gordon Brown economics.”

Truss said that the national insurance rise was her biggest regret in government. “I do hugely regret we went ahead with the national insurance rise. It was against the manifesto promise and I spoke out against it at the time.”

The foreign secretary declined again to say if she would give any further help directly with energy bills – but tempered that by saying she would not commit details of the next budget this early. “There’s [an idea that there’s a] fixed pie, we have to share out the pie and we have to give out the money and hand out.

“My view is that we can grow the pie, and having lower taxes actually helps us generate more income into the economy so there is more money to go around.”

Sunak’s campaign for leadership, which has been trailing Truss’s in the polls for the last few weeks, was dealt a further blow last night when Chris Skidmore became the first Tory MP to switch his support from the former chancellor to Truss.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the MP for Kingswood said the “status quo cannot be an option”. The former universities minister added: “Over the past few weeks, I have grown increasingly concerned by his campaign’s consistently changing position, especially on the economy, to chase votes.”

On Tuesday night Sunak said Truss’s plans would not help swathes of the population and said whoever was prime minister should not rule out direct support. Truss has said she would emphasis tax cuts rather than committing to giving extra direct help with energy bills.

“If you’re a pensioner, if you’re on the national living wage, tax cuts are worth zero,” Sunak said. “That’s not a policy to help people get through the winter and I think it’s wrong to rule out help directly because we as a Conservative government have an obligation to help those who are most vulnerable.

“If we don’t do that, not only will people suffer but we will get absolutely hammered when it comes to the next election. The British people will not forgive us for not doing that.”

At the first hustings to take place in the “red wall”, one of the most significant moments of the evening came when about 40% of those present raised their hands when asked who was still undecided – a far greater number than polls have suggested. By the end of the debate, however, when the question was asked again by the host, TalkTV presenter Tom Newton Dunn, that number had fallen to 10% of the audience.

Truss said she would take more seats in the red wall as prime minister, rather than just defending seats won in 2019. “As Blair himself would say, things can only get better. If you select me to be your prime minister, I will work to take new seats in the north-east – Wansbeck, I will work to take Sunderland, and I will work to win big. And I know we can do it.”

In the audience at the Darlington Hippodrome, there were some murmurings of discontent from the crowd of Tory members. One of the biggest cheers came for Boris Johnson when he appeared on the opening video montage and one audience member shouted: “Bring him back.”

At one stage, when the Tory chair, Andrew Stephenson, said the election campaign would take place over the next two years, another member groaned loudly: “Who says?”

UK builder Bellway reports record revenue as house prices climb

Bellway has reported a record year of sales as rising house prices offset increasing energy and building costs, and the housebuilder predicted a bumper 2023 despite higher interest rates and the cost of living crisis.

Mark Sweney 

The company reported a 13% increase in revenues to a record £3.5bn and 10.5% growth in completions to a record 11,198 in the financial year to the end of July.

Bellway said it benefited from a higher than expected rise in the average selling price, which rose 2.6% to £314,000.

“Bellway has delivered another strong performance, with volume output and housing revenue reaching record levels against the backdrop of a challenging operating environment and macroeconomic uncertainty,” the chief executive, Jason Honeyman, said.

Despite the growing economic pressures as the Bank of England raised interest rates despite predicting an imminent recession, Bellway forecast another record year. The number of home completions is expected to reach 12,200 – about 12% more than in pre-Covid 2019. The company’s forward orders book stands at 7,223 homes with the value rising 4.5% to £2.1bn – another record – and it said it has already sold nearly 50% of private completions.

During the year the pace of business increased as buyer demand remained strong with the reservation rate increasing by 6.9% to 218 a week, while the cancellation rate remained at a low 13%.

“Confidence among customers is strong,” the company said. “Although interest rates and fuel costs have contributed to the rise in the cost of living, Bellway’s range of modern, well-designed new homes continues to provide an attractive and affordable proposition for our customers.”

The company expects the average selling price to drop slightly to just over £300,000 in the year to the end of July 2023 owing to previously announced changes in its geographical and product mix.

Last week, Halifax reported the first fall in house prices in more than a year, as the country’s largest lender warned of the impact of higher interest rates and the broader cost of living crisis.

Last week, the Bank of England announced its biggest increase in interest rates in 27 years, in an attempt to curb soaring inflation as gas prices drive up UK energy bills this winter.

The rise of 0.5 percentage points takes the UK base rate to 1.75%, a 13-year high. At the same time it said the UK would enter a recession by the end of 2022 that would last more than a year and predicted inflation would rise above 13% – the highest since 1980.

“Record revenue, a record number of homes completed and a growing forward order book, if the rises in the costs of living and mortgage rates are about to cause the housing market to turn, no one has told Bellway,” said Anthony Codling, the chief executive of the property data firm Twindig.

“The challenge for the UK housing market seems to be a shortage of homes for sale rather than a shortage of buyers which is welcome news for those building houses.”

Boris Johnson ‘misled parliament on Partygate’, ex-No 10 staff ready to tell inquiry

Former Downing Street are said to be preparing to give evidence to MPs claiming Boris Johnson did misled parliament during the Partygate scandal.

Adam Forrest 

Three former officials at No 10 reportedly believe that the prime minister did not tell the Commons all that he knew about rule-breaking gatherings held during the Covid crisis.

One of the ex-staffers has agreed to give evidence to the privileges committee inquiry into whether the PM mislead, while two others contacted by the committee are considering whether to testify, according to The Telegraph.

One told the newspaper: “On the facts, he was definitely at lockdown-breaking events and he knew they were happening and therefore what he said to the House was knowingly inaccurate.”

Asked if Johnson misled the Commons, another said: “Absolutely, damn well he did”. And a third said Mr Johnson “knew what was going on”.

Mr Johnson denies misleading parliament. He faces the prospect of a recall petition – which could trigger a by-election in his Uxbridge constituency – if he is suspended by MPs investigating whether he lied about lockdown parties.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle confirmed last month that the inquiry – if MPs deem Mr Johnson worthy of suspension – would fall within the remit of the Recall of MPs Act.

The committee inquiry led by Labour grandee Harriet Harman expects oral evidence sessions to begin in the autumn, meaning the inquiry could hang over Mr Johnson’s head for months after he departs No 10.

A report published by the committee has made clear that when considering the allegations against Mr Johnson, the standard of proof will be “on the balance of probabilities”.

Mr Johnson’s defenders have questioned whether he “deliberately” or “knowingly” misled parliament during the Partygate saga.

But the committee made clear that such commentary is not relevant. A memo states: “It is for the committee and the House to determine whether a contempt has occurred and the intention of the contemnor is not relevant to making that decision.”

Laura Farris, Conservative MP for Newbury, revealed on Monday that she had stepped down from the privileges committee last month.

She did not say why she had taken the decision in her tweet, and it she is expected to be replaced by a fellow Tory backbencher.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries had called on all four Tory MPs on the committee to withdraw from the “witchhunt” and Machiavellian process” – with Johnson allies previously calling the probe a “kangaroo court”.

Senior Tory MP Simon Hoare said Ms Dorries was trying to “undermine” a matter for parliament. “The committee shouldn’t give a damn what any minister thinks. This is a serious abuse of power,” he tweeted.

Paul Scully, local government minister, insisted that Mr Johnson did not deliberately mislead MPs. “There’s no way he wilfully misled parliament, in my view,” he told Sky News on Tuesday. “I can’t see how they’re going to find otherwise.”

Asked if he agreed with Ms Dorries’ view that Tory MPs should pull out, Ms Scully. “There is a process, let’s just get through the process.”

Downing Street also rejected Dorries’ call to withdraw co-operation from the inquiry.

His official spokesperson said on Monday that the prime minister and No 10 wanted to “abide by the process”, adding: “We will assist the committee in their inquiries.”

New East Devon town of 8,000 homes being considered by council

Will this be, as Cranbrook was originally billed, the “development” to end all “developments” elsewhere in the District? – Owl 

East Devon District Council (EDDC) are working in partnership with a renowned consultancy company to evaluate the potential of a new East Devon town.

The new town, which is intended to be in the north west area of East Devon, could include up to 8,000 new sustainable homes, as well as community facilities and amenities. It is hoped the new town would form a template of a biodiverse and zero-carbon environment.

By way of comparison, Cranbrook currently has around 2,500 homes.

CBRE is leading the consultancy. Advice will be provided on viability, construction options, environmental measures, viability, infrastructure, planning, and design.

Louise Wyman is CBRE’s executive director of strategic development. She will be working alongside Simon Phillips, director of planning, as well as senior director Andrew Round. The team will receive technical support from partner organisations including Hydrock, Tibbalds and Pinsent Masons.

Louise said: “The next decade is likely to see significant changes to placemaking, due to the impact of climate change policy.

“The multi-disciplinary team led by CBRE are committed to producing proposals that are future proofed, where the principles of sustainable development and delivering a net zero community are embedded in our approach.”

Councillor Paul Arnott, EDDC’s leader and the authority’s portfolio holder for strategic planning, said:

“Over the last three years, our council’s priority has been to make sure that the views of the public on major initiatives such as this are heard through high-quality consultations.

“In our renewed Local Plan process, we welcome both members of the public and industry experts to share their opinions on how we shape the future of East Devon. As one of the cornerstones to this, we have commissioned the well-respected CBRE to start the arduous process of informing the council on preferred routes of travel to deliver a true 21st century community with net zero and sustainability at its core.”